Becky Alley is the new Exhibitions & Programs Director at the Lexington Art League, and is a strong artist in her own right. She brings to her new position a solid understanding of why art matters and how an entire community can benefit from real opportunities to both create and support art.
The Art League is one of the most important visual arts institutions in the region, with what must be the shortest mission statement in the Tri State Area. “ To challenge, educate and engage through current visual art” does not hint at the complex role the Art League plays here. With one foot firmly planted in the mid 1950’s and the other —far into the future, the Art League can on occasion seem at odds with itself. While this may pose a challenge for those leading the Art League, it is not necessarily a bad thing for the rest of us and can lead to innovative programming which truly reflects the diverse community the Art League serves.
In her words:
“I just moved to Lexington two months ago accepting the position of Exhibitions & Programs Director at the Lexington Art League. I was asked to introduce myself, so at the risk of sounding terribly self-indulgent, here is a little bit about me, why I love art, and why I’m excited to be here.
“I grew up in the woods on a mountain just outside of Chattanooga. Growing up I never considered myself an artist. I thought that making stuff was fun, but in my mind, to be an artist I had to be really good at drawing realistically, or have weird hair. Luckily, I discovered that art is really about communicating ideas that are important to people. It isn’t necessarily about mastering a particular technique (although many wonderful artists do exhibit extraordinary skill in their work). The key to good art is having a compelling message.
“I studied studio art in college and graduate school. Not only did I love making art, I also loved talking about art. Engaging in a meaningful exchange stimulated by interesting artwork is still a hugely gratifying experience for me. Art has the ability to encourage dialogue about things that we all as humans find deeply important. And, since it is mostly visual, art leaves room for subjectivity and multiple perspectives. Rather than providing answers, art offers a starting point for conversations.
“As a student, I was interested in working in a gallery, and after school I was fortunate to find a job at the Salina Art Center in Kansas. There I learned how art can function as a community crossroads, a place where people come together and talk about things they share. I was inspired by how this art center was able to provide contemporary exhibitions in a setting that was not at all pretentious or elitist, but rather in a way that was comfortable and accessible to people in the community.
“My next job was at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. There I gained wonderful experience organizing exhibitions and teaching. Because I was responsible for so many shows each year (25-30), I met a lot of artists, and learned a tremendous amount about how exhibition venues operate. The best part of my job was curating exhibitions. Because I believe so strongly that art is fundamentally about communicating ideas, my favorite shows that I did were ones that centered around a theme. For example, Wicked & Wise was a show of narrative work exploring fantastic worlds inspired by legends, fairy tales, ghost stories and comic books; Think Tank was a collection of thoughtful and politically engaging artwork that sparked exciting and timely conversation in the gallery, and Creatures Great & Small was an exhibition of artwork using animals as a means to more deeply understand our collective humanity.
“In January of this year, I started a new phase in my professional career at the Lexington Art League. I applied for the position because the vision and mission of LAL resonates with me. I believe that contemporary art can be deeply moving to people if presented in a way that is accessible, engaging, and relevant to the audience. While my job at LAL involves many things, at its core, it is about promoting art as an active and meaningful experience. I hope people come to LAL and talk about the work and what it means to them, or why they do or don’t like it. Looking at art doesn’t require any special skill or knowledge, but simply the willingness to discover meaning in an image or object.
“In addition to working as an arts administrator, I am a practicing artist. I try very hard to make work that is simple and honest. I am thrilled about the energy and enthusiasm surrounding Lexington’s art scene. There are smart and creative people here doing exciting things, and I am looking forward to being a part of it.”
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
“For a long time I wanted to be a doctor. I really liked math and physics in school, and I even went to Space Camp in 6th grade (which I would do again in a heartbeat). I went to college thinking I would major on either Physics or Psychology. I never thought I would be an artist. I always liked art, but it intimidated me. I was really self-conscious about it. Actually I’m still self-conscious about it, but now I know that every artist is, so I persevere.”
As an artist, what is your preferred media?
“As an undergraduate student, I officially majored in Drawing & Printmaking, but the only reason I was in that department was because of the papermaking. I just liked how easy it was to work with the material, it could be flat or sculptural, and it seemed inherently simple…just plant fibers. In graduate school I continued to make work with handmade paper, but also used handmade soap, handmade candy, and fabric. Most recently I’ve worked with string, leaves, and even more paper.
What inspires your work?
“I generally make work that emphasizes a process that occurs over a long period of time. So, for a few years I used materials that I could dissolve, pull apart, or unravel slowly as a way to build up marks over time. I was exploring ideas of memory, spirituality, and death. More recently I’ve been interested in the process of accumulating and counting items of significance. For example, I recently created a piece called Fallen which is a memorial to all of the US soldiers that have died in Iraq since March of 2003. The number of soldiers I reference depends on when I install the piece, so most recently it was 4,376. But, I collect actual leaves that have fallen off of trees, and assemble them in a gallery space. Very simple. The meaning of the piece lies in both my effort in collecting and counting them, and then visually representing the number.”
As a curator, what do you look for in artwork?
“ I think anything can be interesting, as long as it is made well. I guess I primarily look for two things. One, a really compelling idea. And two, a sincere effort by the artist to express the idea. As anyone would imagine, the selection process is quite subjective and hard to really define.
What exhibitions are you currently working on for LAL?
Right now I am organizing a show called Alternate Selves that will run April 23 – June 26 that explores the transformative power of costumes. A lot of the work deals with issues of identity in various ways. Really interesting stuff. It will run concurrently with Passing: Fashioning Drag, an exhibition curated by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova featuring photographs and oral histories gathered from local drag queens as well as original custom gowns created by designer Patryq Howell. (Info, lexingtonartleague.com